Thursday, 13 August 2009

Electrogaz - the firm we love to hate....

August 12th

More navel gazing today. The room gets hotter and hotter and everyone is drooping by eleven o’clock. Yet we continue till well after five. These rooms we use for meeting s are all the same – big floor space, but low ceiling and metal roof. So now, at the height of the dry season, the roof space heats up like an oven and radiates the heat down on us sitting below. We’re all yawning, trying to pay attention and not disgrace ourselves.

Today we’re trying to teach the Rwandans about “inclusion”. We mention “excluded” people in the sense that some groups – disabled, women, teachers in very rural schools – are excluded from effective decision making at national level. But “excluded” to our Rwandan colleagues means suspended or sacked, and it creates endless confusion. Why should we be trying to make allowances for people who have been sacked…..?

I’m really impressed by the pupils we are using as sounding boards – two of the boys in particular are outstanding. Fluent, and not in the least deterred by having several muzungus and a whole host of strange teachers, parents and education bigwigs as their audience.

Lunch is the usual self-service mélange and as usual turns into a contest between the men as to who can pile the most onto their plates. You just wouldn’t believe how much food some of these guys can shift. I know I’m gutsy when there’s free food around, but these people take the biscuit. Or, more like, the whole packet of biscuits and more besides.

Claude says he’s going up to Rongi tomorrow to look at one of the schools there, and I ask if I can come with him. At the very least I can inspect one school, and possibly two. Nyundo, the new school which did brilliantly in last year’s concour exam, has already asked me to come and visit them, and Nyamiyaga School is only a mile or so from where Claude is going. It’ll feel nice to do two schools this week. Gitongati has asked me to come and see them on Friday, but I think they want to press me for money for a building project and I’m going to have to say no to them.

During lunch I hear the tale of a certain Rwandan male who is pondering his wedding options. Marriage is more fraught than I realised here, especially for the girls. One unfortunate result of the genocide is a reduction in the number of men of marriageable age, particularly in the 25-30 age group. This means there is competition between the women to find a suitable man, and it means the men can play fast and loose under the pretext of trying to find a “suitable” partner. This can range all the way from “road testing” a partner in bed before deciding to marry her, to full scale polygamy in the north of the country. (It’s illegal, but it happens and the authorities seem to turn a blind eye to it).

Anyway, this particular Rwandan man had a degree, and a good, safe job with a western NGO which brought him a respectable salary. He would be able to afford a house in Kigali, and all these assets put him near the top of the tree in terms of his eligibility. One day this guy made it known to his friends that he had a long list of women friends, around seventy in all, and he was systematically assessing their prospects as a potential bride. Each girl was given a grading, and those who failed to make the grade were struck off the list. My understanding is that the list is now down to just three or four, and that he is still trying to decide. It would be interesting to hear the girls’ take on this individual….

Back to the partnership agreement meeting. At long last Bishop Jared arrives from Shyogwe to formally close the meeting. There’s effusive thanks to everyone from VSO, and next there’s the mad scramble as all the teachers and parents make a rush on Jean-Claude to collect their per diems for attending. All the volunteers nip off quickly into the fresh air!

I rush home, all hot and bothered, and find Tom absolutely furious in the lounge. Electrogaz have cut off FHI’s electricity (snipped through the wires, no less) because FHI apparently owe RwF12000 for water bills from sometime way back in 2008. This beggars belief. It’s the same utility that runs water and electricity. The idea, firstly, that they would disconnect someone without warning and for as trivial an amount as 12000 francs (£15), and secondly the idea that the company would disconnect your electricity because you owe them money for your water. I suppose it’s easier to snip the electric cables than dig up and disable the water main. So now the entire FHI operation in Gitarama has no power. It will take days for Tom to go to Kigali, find the receipts from Electrogaz which prove they did pay the bills, and take them back to Electrogaz. (In Rwanda the onus is always on you to prove you’ve paid, rather than on the company to prove you haven’t paid).

So Tom goes up to the Electrogaz office, with Janine in tow, and sounds off in no uncertain terms to the local manager. Janine has to translate. Now Janine is notoriously softly spoken and reticent, and Tom has spent time trying to coach her into being assertive and furious. Janine is a quick learner and Tom is really pleased that she not only does him justice in translating, but she actually herself takes offence at the Electrogaz official’s complacency and goes for her on her own account.

Not that anything is resolved; Tom will still need to prove that he’s paid the bills and that means a trip to Kigali. The problem is that Tom flies home on Saturday, so he only has 2 days to try to rectify the issue. Sometimes we wonder whether Rwanda really deserves the amount of Western support it’s getting!

Tom and I ponder over what we’re going to eat. Then Moira and Kerry ring and say they’re having a drink at a bar in town and do we want to join them. As it happens I’ve just collected a parcel for Kerry from the post office (a belated birthday present for her), so it’s an easy decision to make. We end up with brochettes and ibirayi once more, and don’t get home till late. Our poor guard is left to fend for himself yet another night. We forget to specify what kind of brochettes we want, and end up with two of liver (no problem, I’ll happily eat them), and two of zingalo, which nobody likes. Between us we eat one of the zingalos to remind ourselves how much we don’t like them (the texture is unpleasant, and they smell vaguely of faeces. That’s not surprising because zingalo are goat intestines, supposedly washed out thoroughly. One wonders how thorough the washing process can be when we are having such severe water shortages during the dry season. You get the picture….)

Talking of water shortages, the word on the street is that the water shortage is not due to a lack of rainfall, as we’d all been led to believe. No, the rumours are that the water company forgot to order, or severely under ordered, the chemicals it needs to purify the water before it is put into the mains. And guess which company is responsible?....... You got it. Electrogaz………

We get back home later, and we’re both tired and dehydrated. So between us we knock back several glasses of water and make sure our jerry cans are full ready for showers and breakfast tomorrow. Now that’s when I know I’m not back in Dorset – when there are late night routines like filling water cans from the stop pipe, and sorting out mosquito netting.

We’ve decided to do a meal and entertain on Friday night to be a farewell meal for Tom, like everyone did for me before I went home. I know all the girls will come and I want to give Tom a good send off. So if I do another school on Friday after Gitongati it’s going to have to be a local one and a little one!

Best thing about today – finishing the conference.

Worst thing – discovering that Tom leaves in three days’ time and doesn’t return until October 3rd. That’s a long time away!

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